job creation, ranging from the Depression era Works Progress Administration (WPA) to the JTPA (Jobs Training Partnership Act) of the 1980s. There are unmet needs in public infrastructure, in health care, and in social services. Creating 5 million jobs at $50,000, with benefits and administrative costs would run us $500 million, and would reduce the unemployment rate by about 5 percent, and would increase tax revenue significantly. Those employed by federal programs could work in schools and in libraries, in repairing infrastructure, and in implementing neglected public services. It is would be my recommendation that employment funds flow to cities, not states, as urban issues are far more acute that state-wide issues, and because cities are likely to be blacker, browner, older, younger, and both richer and poorer than the rest of America. The economic bifurcation we see in cities is likely to be one of the reasons we see such strong Occupy movements in urban areas.
Many will ask where the money will come from to create jobs, especially as Congress grapples with debt ceiling-related issues. There is overwhelming evidence that a country does not work its way through a recession, official or unofficial, by cutting employment or cutting programs. While there is no denying the self-imposed constraints that have come from the August agreement to cut the long-term debt, I might posit that the debt might be eliminated more quickly if Americans were put back to work. I would suggest that if cuts are necessary, then a tax increase to put America back to work would be in order. However, it might also be necessary to consider a special appropriation directed to job creation. Our nation’s future depends on it.
Job creation is only the first step for securing America’s future. We also have to look at the issue of workforce readiness and job preparation. We are lagging woefully behind in the STEM areas, and in other international indicators of economic prosperity. We are 11th in the world in the number of people over 25 who have AA or BA degrees, falling behind Finland, South Korea, Ireland and Canada, among other nations. In order to continue to innovate, and to produce educated global citizens, we must spend more money, not less, on both k-12 and higher education. While I realize that there must be a spirit of shared sacrifice in this economic climate, I would also suggest that cutting higher education is equivalent to a farmer eating her seed corn, choosing to sacrifice tomorrow for the exigencies of today.
My special concern is for historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), the work we do in post-secondary education and job creation, and the extent to which we may experience cuts in Title III funds in Supercommittee deliberations. Although the 38 HBCU colleges represent just 1.6 percent of the four-year-degree granting colleges, we produce more than 5.6 percent of our nation’s college graduates. We do more than our share of heavy lifting, preparing inner city, first generation, and financially challenged students. We need more support, not less.
Our nation is losing ground and losing our leadership status internationally because we are neither generating jobs nor investing in the education that will prepare the workforce of the future. I realize that these are trying times, and yet innovation often emerges from trying times. We can create jobs at a modest cost, and improve communities along the way. We can support higher education, especially for the underserved. We can connect the public and private sectors with tax incentives to encourage business to employ those out of work. Finally, we can encourage entrepreneurship by strengthening new businesses with government grants and tax incentives.
Dr. Julianne Malveaux is president of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.